The L1 visa allows companies to transfer employees to their branches, subsidiaries or affiliates in the U.S. This means the L1 visa only works for companies that have existing offices out of the U.S. from where they can transfer an employee to a U.S. branch. There are two types of L1 visas – the L1A and L1B visa. The L1A visa allows employees in managerial or executive roles to work for up to seven years in the U.S. The L1B lets employees with specialized knowledge work in the U.S. for up to five years. For example, if you work for a company in Germany and your employer wants to transfer you to their New York office, the L1A or L1B visa would be the first options to consider. Foreign companies can also use the L1A visa to open a new office in the U.S. (but this process has additional requirements).
The L1A visa is one of the best ways to immigrate to the U.S. if you eventually want to apply for a green card. L1A visa holders can apply for green cards in the EB1 category and often obtain green cards within a year or two. As of recently, the EB1 category has retrogressed (meaning there are backlogs) across all countries, so the timeline is longer at this time (3 years or so). With an L1B visa, the green card process is typically much longer.
So who qualifies for an L1A visa?
What are the requirements for an L1A visa?
The L1A visa is for managers and executives. Additionally, you must have been working for the company for at least one out of the three years prior to the transfer (in a managerial or executive role). To qualify, you cannot be a low level manager. The L1A visa requires evidence of managerial duties that meet a certain bar, such as:
- Supervising and controlling the work of professional employees
- Managing a department, function, or subdivision of the organization
- Holding a senior level position in the organization with the authority to make decisions with little oversight
Unlike the H1B visa, there are no annual limits/caps on the number of L1A visas available. While a very low wage can be problematic, there is no prevailing wage requirement for L1A visas (another key different between the H1B and L1 visas).
What family can I bring on an L1A visa and can they work?
Spouses and children under 21 can come to the U.S. on a dependent visa called the L2 visa. L2 visa holders are eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document and work in the U.S. Once approved, you receive an EAD card that valid for 2 years and can be renewed. This is one of the biggest advantages of the L1A (also L1B) visa over the H1B visa, which does not allow spouses on dependent visas to work (unless the H1B visa holder has applied for a green card and reached a certain stage in the process).
Under the Trump administration, processing times for EAD applications have increased due to backlogs. Current estimates are anywhere between three and over six months. For this reason, it’s best to apply for an EAD as soon as you can.
For how long is an L1A visa valid?
An L1A visa is valid for 3 years if you are transferring to an existing branch / office. You can apply for extensions which come in 2 year increments. For foreign companies establishing a new office in the U.S., the initial L1A will be valid for one year. L1A visas allow a maximum stay of up to 7 years in the U.S.
What is the application process?
The L1 visa application process is initiated by the employer who files Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and supporting documentation. Once approved, the USCIS issues Form I-797, Notice of Action. Then, the employee (located abroad) has to file Form DS-160 online, schedule and attend a visa interview at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy in his/her home country. If you are going through a work visa process, your employer will likely have an immigration attorney that will guide you through the whole process in detail.
If you need help with your L1A visa process, you can find pre-screened immigration lawyers with over a decade of experience on Ask Ellis. We look forward to helping you!
*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice